How Four Program Managers Have Profoundly Impacted First Tee Growth in the Carolinas

Categories: News

It would be easy to point to the formal merger of three regional chapters as the catalyst to a new era of growth across a six-county region.

But we can’t do so without acknowledging that the seeds of The First Tee of Coastal Carolinas’ (TFTCC) current “Drive the Future” initiative were actually sown years prior, and have born fruit throughout a process that has helped more than 30,000 young lives in each of the past few years.

Supported by an active volunteer base of more than 350 caring individuals, TFTCC’s ambitious program managers oversee daily activities and year-round initiatives that cover a service area that now includes six counties – two in South Carolina (Horry, Georgetown), and four in Southeastern North Carolina (Brunswick, Carteret, Craven, Pamlico).

Here’s how they’ve made a profound impact in the communities we serve.

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In 40 years as a PGA Professional that includes competing on the PGA and Champions tours, Terry Mauney, PGA has accumulated a lifetime of golf experience as a player, instructor and mentor. For the past seven years in Brunswick County and for several years prior to that at The First Tee of Forth Worth, Tex., Mauney has applied that base of experience and knowledge to benefit kids in The First Tee’s Life Skills Experience (LSE) program – in particular, the program’s more advanced players.

By actively engaging as many as 250 players a year in its LSE program that now includes 10 Brunswick County elementary schools, Mauney has seen about a third of those participants each year advance beyond the program’s introductory levels (Player, Par) to become more accomplished players at the Birdie, Eagle and Ace levels.

“Based on my experience on the professional tours, I’ve focused on elevating the teaching philosophy here to serve both teachers and players who have a higher golf IQ,” said Mauney. “We’re providing more advanced training for coaches, who themselves are good players, and are giving them the tools they need to turn these kids into players, as opposed to having them just come here to be part of an activity.

“Getting the parents involved has been key, too.  We’ve had seasonal tour events, at our Golf Club at Cinghiale Creek in Shallotte, NC, to engage the more serious young golfers among our ranks, to give them more opportunities to play at a competitive level.“

One short-term reward for many of these kids’ efforts comes via invitation for them to participate as players in TFTCC’s high-profile special events including The Mentor Cup and Future Generations golf tournaments. Rich Abraham, TFTCC’s executive director, points to Mauney’s unbridled enthusiasm as a factor that gets First Tee participants excited enough to want to progress to that level and earn such rewards.

“Terry not only gets the kids revved up and enthusiastic about playing the game competitively, but even more so to have fun with it,” said Abraham. “And that enthusiasm carries over to the parents, and really makes it as much of a family atmosphere as it is a great growth environment.”

“They’re like my grandkids. It’s been awesome,” said Mauney, who has now seen 18 First Tee kids he’s helped go on to play college golf. “That, to me, is what’s really inspiring, that they used The First Tee as a platform for staying with the game and growing to that point.

“If I can inspire them to keep golf as an important part of their lives, then it’s worth every bit of time I’ve put into this.”

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As a former professional tour caddy and now a Level 3 coach for The First Tee of Coastal Carolinas, George Brooks has been instrumental in developing a grassroots involvement of children and their families from throughout Eastern North Carolina. He’s had a significant hand in attracting more than 8,000 annual youth participants to TFTCC’s National School Program across 17 elementary schools in Carteret, Craven and Pamlico counties.

“George’s sincerity in helping First Tee participants is in his community outreach, and in getting The First Tee’s Nine Core Values embedded in so many schools in the Eastern North Carolina region. That’s a lot,” noted Abraham, who also pointed to Brooks’ broader efforts through The First Tee’s DRIVE initiative to “Develop Rewarding, Inspiring Values for Everyone who participates.”

“He’s essentially become a First Tee community activist,” Abraham said, citing outside youth organizations, churches and civic groups that Brooks has engaged over the past six years to help The First Tee instill those values in the lives of so many local families.

For Brooks, the organization made an immediate impression when he was first exposed to its work several years ago, while caddying a Champions Tour event in Pebble Beach where First Tee players were involved.

“I was so impressed by the behavior, mannerisms and respect that these kids exhibited that week, and how The First Tee played a big role in molding their character. That’s what got me motivated to get the program going here in New Bern,” said Brooks.

Now, as it was then, the motivation to keep The First Tee on its upward trajectory in Eastern North Carolina is simple. “It’s not just about teaching and preaching the Nine Core Values,” explained Brooks. “It’s about really getting these kids to understand their meaning.”

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After graduating in 2014 from Coastal Carolina University with a degree in recreation and sports management, Patrick O’Brien spent seven months interning with the Northern Texas PGA Section running their junior tour league. He was learning a lot there about the junior golf industry, and as he began his pursuit of a lifetime career in the game, he came to a pretty sensible conclusion.

“I knew the state of junior golf needed to improve,” reasoned O’Brien, “and if I wanted to have a long-term impact on the game, I’d be pretty well-served helping today’s kids develop so they can be part of that future growth.”

In his tenure with TFTCC as Instruction Associate Manager for its Grand Strand region, O’Brien has injected a youthful enthusiasm in his work. Kids marvel at how he demonstrates his own golfing prowess (he can routinely “bomb it” off the tee, Abraham observed), but his ability to connect with the next generation goes well beyond.

“As a younger man, Patrick can more easily engage the kids,” said Abraham. “They have fun while he still maintains discipline around the Nine Core Values. There’s always a game going on as part of his instruction, a target to shoot at, squares laid out on the green … So the kids are having fun, but discipline is being maintained while he’s executing the Player-Par-Birdie-Eagle-Ace curriculum properly and seeing these kids through the certification process.”

“I incorporate games as part of my teaching instead of just giving orders and direction,” said O’Brien. “When the games are complete, it’s a lot of, ‘What did you learn?’ ‘Did you find something better about your golf swing?’ It’s about keeping it fun while we’re engaging them.

“So many kids get driven away from sports because they feel like they’re being forced into it. I want them to enjoy being there. And when they learn something more about themselves and their game, it doesn’t seem like it’s been a chore or burdensome task to get there.”

The kids seem to be getting the message, and in steadily growing numbers. Abraham notes that the number of participating National School Program schools along the Grand Strand has swelled from 18 to 25 in the past four years, with more than 10,000 new youth participants coming onboard in that time.

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Little did Shannon Parks know nine years ago just how much of an impact The First Tee would have on her family’s life – and, in turn, how much of an impact she’d have on youth development through golf.

Parks began with The First Tee of Brunswick County as a volunteer in 2009. She was introduced to the chapter’s works by her daughter, Cameryn, and experienced first-hand how its programs helped Cameryn blossom as a competitive golfer who would go on to earn a golf scholarship at Queens College in Charlotte, N.C.

Parks then joined the Brunswick County staff as an administrative assistant in 2013. Today, as director of TFTCC’s Carolina Leadership Academy (CLA), Parks has overseen a notable revival of a summer camp program for teens whose participation levels had flat-lined.

“Participation was dead,” observed Abraham. “And Shannon teamed up with several educators to rewrite a curriculum that would make it more engaging and fun for the kids.”

The curriculum involves a weeklong, overnight camp experience for boys and girls ages 14-17. And while golf is at the core, it’s not a prerequisite; CLA proudly touts the fact that participants need not have previous golf experience to attend. “This is not a golf camp,” their Web page explains, “but a fun, interactive camp where you will learn communication, leadership and life skills all while learning a little golf!”

Kids are getting the message – at a participation rate that has more than doubled in one year, from 35 participants in 2017 to 72 this past summer.

Abraham looks beyond the numbers for the ultimate sign of how well this program is working. “Each summer camp session begins with some kids having natural apprehension about a new experience,” he said. “But by the time the week’s over, they don’t want to leave!”

Many participants are not only eager to return, but Parks noted that several have done so as interns.

“To see how these kids embrace the value of this program, and now in turn want to help pass that positive experience down to others, is truly remarkable,” said Parks. “That means so much.”

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Our program managers’ collective efforts have also been a key source of support for some of our most recent achievements. In late October 2018, the youth participants, parents and volunteer coaches of The First Tee of Coastal Carolinas experienced a very successful and exciting week, participating in a clinic at Pawleys Plantation with Jack Nicklaus as well as the inaugural Mentor Cup at Tidewater Golf Club. More than 40 of our youth attended each event and truly made The First Tee proud, as they showcased their golf skills and mastery of The Nine Core Values.

With increasing support from the local golf industry and community foundations, The First Tee of Coastal Carolinas is poised to increase the quantity and quality of programming across its footprint.  A recent change in The First Tee’s National guidelines allowing local training for Certified coaches will facilitate a significant increase in trained coaches, new programs and the expansion of our Birdie-Eagle-Ace program for advanced participants.